Study Abroad Alumni Experiences – Natalia – Inverness, Scotland

By September 12, 2018Blog post

Welcome back to campus JU students! We have great new content to bring you this Fall 2018. Each week, we are going to highlight Study Abroad student experiences from our JU Study Abroad Alumni. JU students traveled to a variety of places this summer, so stay tuned to get an inside look on where their journeys took them!

This week, we have Natalia’s story. She is an International Business student who participated in a homestay experience this Summer 2018 in Inverness, Scotland through University of Highlands and Islands and JU. Her experience was culturally immersive and certainly unique. Living with a host family offers a brilliant first hand experience into the lives of families and students of that native country. Here’s what Natalia had to say about her experience in beautiful, wild Inverness.

As I wake up from a quick nap I took on the plane, I look through the window and appreciate the new scenery before my eyes. A picture filled with a green brush and small white spots used to paint the flocks of sheep. The first thought that came into my mind was “Well, at least it reminds me a little bit of home.” The scenery definitely didn’t have the exact same tall and majestic mountains as in my country, Costa Rica, but it was a setting crowded with nature, hills, rivers, lakes, and trees. Moments later, the idea of meeting my new family strikes me, making me shiver, and cause my mind to race. Are they going to like me? Will I get along with them? To my surprise, I see in the distance a small poster with my name written on it and a big smile. My nervousness suddenly disappeared. From that first moment, my host mother made me feel as if I was in the right place, at the right time.

Katherine Loades and her husband, Keith Loades, were my host family in Scotland. They are a retired couple that live in a cozy house in a nice neighborhood with their dog named Gogo. Gogo is the smartest dog I’ve ever met in my entire life, and he loves Katherine with all his heart. Every time we went back to her house, Gogo would be waiting for her, and as soon as she opened the door, he would jump like crazy, trying his hardest to lick her face. He would never go out for a walk if Katherine wasn’t with him. Once I tried to take him out on my own, and as soon as we were around the corner of Katherine’s house on our way to the park, he turned around and noticed Katherine wasn’t there, so he sprinted back home, barking crazily to get his mom’s attention. I first met Katherine virtually through an email, where Jenni Loades introduced us for the first time, and where I got to see pictures of the house, and the garden. Jenni is married to Katherine’s son, Kenneth Loades, and she is also the person who allowed my Scotland dream trip to become a reality. Jenni works in the Study Abroad office of the University of the Highland and Islands, and was in charge of the JU, UVU, and Stetson Study Abroad Program. When they asked me if I wanted to stay with a host family or in the dorms, I didn’t hesitate to pick living with a host family. I love to learn about new cultures and I knew going to Scotland to study abroad would open a door to a new world. Not only would it open my mind to a new culture, but also living with a host family would give me the perfect experience of Scottish manners, behaviors, preferences, food and slang language. This program helped me experience a new world, meet new people, learn about a new culture, and discover a new part of myself.



The first days were all about introductions and orientation. New faces were all over the place. I started making new connections with students and professors from Stetson and UVU (as well as a couple of familiar faces from JU). It is amazing how you can find really close friends in only a few days, even if they are very different from you, like my friend Milena (who is a fashionista loves to dress nicely, and has 100 pairs of heels) and me (a soccer girl who doesn’t dress up and only has a few pairs of heels). We started off with a scavenger hunt in the middle of a new town and with a new group of students that were going to be my team for a project of the program. The hunt was very interesting, and for the first time, I saw the true colors of my group members: Erica, Patricia, Leah and April. It helped us to get to know each other and also, get to know the town we were going to live in for several weeks. The buildings, the bridges, and the people walking around were very different from back home. First of all, there were some signs around the street and the town with a completely new language, which later on I learned was “Gaelic”. Then, close to the town of Inverness, there was a beautiful and big park surrounded by the River Ness. We don’t have such beautiful and vast parks back in Costa Rica. In Scotland, you can find yourself surrounded by people walking their dogs, running, greeting you, playing soccer, and playing “shinty”, a totally new sport I encountered in Scotland. This sport is considered “highly aggressive”, but after staying with Keith, who was a shinty player himself (who even played for the national team in Scotland and is currently the President of the Camanachd Association), I learned about the beauty of the sport. Shinty originated from Ireland as a branch of “hurling”, and demonstrated the true colors of Scottish history, as well as the big rapport that exists between countries in the UK.

Scotland is a beautiful country full of different colors, and Inverness is one of the areas with the richest history in Scotland. Everything was beautiful and peaceful. Even the afternoon walks with Gogo in the park closest to Katherine and Keith’s house. We would walk Gogo and meet his friend “Nico” in the park. Then, after walking Gogo, we would come back and eat dinner. I miss Katherine’s cooking so much! She would cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for me. All new meals I’d never tried before, but I was so ready to try anything. I wanted to experience everything from the Scottish culture, and one of the most exciting things was the food. For breakfast back home, we sometimes have rice and beans “gallo pinto” with eggs, or eggs with toast. Well, Katherine made me true Scottish breakfast every morning with bacon, sausage, black pudding, white pudding, poached eggs, eggs with salmon, porridge, or grilled mushrooms. Breakfast is actually my favorite meal of the day, so imagine how happy and excited I was every morning. Lunch was mostly occasional since I regularly was in school or on a field trip, but sometimes she would send me a couple of delicious biscuits with homemade “chutney”. Finally, dinner was the meal where I tried many different Scottish recipes like haggis, mince, tatties, lamb, and coleslaw. Even though I would try to help her, she wouldn’t let me close to “her” kitchen. Sometimes she would let me cut the vegetables or set up the salad, but everything else was off limits. Only one day did I actually get to cook in her kitchen. On this day I made paella (a Spanish meal that my dad cooks back home) for the whole family. Last but not least, before, during, and after most meals, we would have one of the most popular things from British culture: tea.

After eating breakfast, Katherine would take me to the University. The streets of Scotland remind me a lot of back home, since they have numerous roundabouts. During the afternoon, close to sunset, some roundabouts were full of little bunnies. I thought they were so cute and Katherine would just laugh as she looked at my excitement to see them. The University of Highlands and Islands was mostly modern and upscale. I went there every day, except for the weekends to take two courses: International Marketing and Organizational Behavior. Apart from class, some days they would give us time to work on a project/internship. My project was with a 5-star hotel called “Loch Ness Lodge”. It was an awesome project, and one of the best parts of it was working with Mr. Loch Ness or Mr. Cameron (the owner of the hotel). During the weekends, we traveled to different parts of Scotland. We went to visit “Tomatin” (a whisky distillery), Cairngorms (a national park), the Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, the Culloden Battlefield, and the Isle of Skye. Also, Katherine and Keith took me to different places like Fort George, Fort Williams, Cawdor Castle, Orkney, and to a couple of shinty games. We were so unlucky when we went to Orkney. Literally, the UK is a pretty bipolar country, the weather can change constantly! Some days it will rain a lot, as most days are cloudy, but some days is really sunny out of nowhere. When we decided the day for going to Orkney none of us (Katherine, Jenni or me) checked the weather. So we ended up going on an awful cloudy and rainy day, where we missed a lot of the beautiful scenery in Orkney because of the weather! It’s alright though, I wanted the true British experience and that’s exactly what I got that day. Orkney still is beautiful and I don’t regret going there.

I miss everything about Scotland. But most of all, I miss the special people I met there. Mostly Katherine, Keith, Kenneth, and Jenni, who all truly made me feel part of their family. Kenneth would even joke around that I was his little sister and that Katherine cared more about me than him. Spending time with them literally opened my eyes to a new world, and to the fact that you need to get outside your bubble or you will miss the opportunity to get to know another piece of you. If I would’ve chosen to stay back home instead of trying something new, then I would never have met them, and I would never have had such an amazing experience. Opportunities come and go in your life and they can literally pass in front of your eyes without you even seeing them. There is so much more in this world than what surrounds you. Sometimes you just want to be comfortable or you are just afraid to take chances because you don’t know what will happen. Uncertainty will always be there, but you need to be brave enough to ignore it. Also, making these decisions on your own and being independent for a few weeks will help you find your true self. I learned that we don’t have to be afraid to show those around you who you really are, and a lot of us are a reflection of our families, our culture and our values. After this experience I realized how much I love the peaceful sound of nature, how much I love the excitement and emotions that surround sports, how much I love dogs and their naughtiness, how much I love different kinds of food but mostly breakfast meals, how much I love the reflection of the sun in the wide rivers and lochs, how much I love shortbread and finally, how much I love the warmth of family. Right now there is one piece of my heart back in Scotland.


-Natalia Harley